by Frank Schnittger
Mon Aug 27th, 2018 at 11:29:30 AM EST
Much lower than expected crowds show up for Pope Francis' Mass
Pope Francis' visit to Ireland, just concluded, was very different to that of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 1979, but it is very difficult to gauge it's significance in the immediate aftermath. The visit was dominated by the clerical child sexual abuse and cover-up scandals, and other scandals concerning Church run mother-and-baby homes, forced adoptions, and forced labour in Magdalen laundries. Pope Francis referred to these scandals in all four of his speeches and begged forgiveness for the Church's part in them.
What he did not do was announce any concrete measures to help bring the perpetrators and those responsible for the cover-up to justice, such as releasing files on the perpetrators held by the Vatican to state prosecutors. He referred to some Archbishops and Cardinals being sacked but claimed he was limited in what he could do by opposition from the Curia. It seems that too many people directly involved in the cover-up are still in power in the Vatican.
The Pope himself has also just been accused of covering-up the abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington and called on to resign by the former Vatican ambassador to the US, Archbishop Vigano, a conservative with hard-line anti-gay views. The Curia may be fighting back.
The crowds attending his ceremonies where also much reduced on 1979 when over a million attended Pope John Paul II's Mass in the Phoenix park. This time half a million were expected but only an estimated 130,000 showed up, perhaps not helped by the inclement weather. Croke Park Gaelic stadium was also far from full for a Papal homily on family values despite a host of musical stars performing as well. A rival protest event organized at short notice with no logistical support by abuse survivor Colm O'Gorman drew a crowd of about five thousand.
Many practicing Catholics were hoping the Pope's visit would result in an upsurge in religious fervour as had happened after Pope Jon Paul's visit in 1979, followed soon after by a clause banning abortion being inserted into the Irish Constitution through a referendum carried with a two thirds majority. Exactly the same majority removed that clause just a few months ago, and so the two Papal visits nicely book-end a very significant change in popular attitudes to Church doctrine and teaching in the meantime.
Leo Varadker gave a widely praised speech to the Pope urging the Church to adopt a policy of mandatory reporting of sex abuse allegations to civil authorities world-wide, a policy only recently adopted by the Irish Church following some opposition from the Vatican. As a non-practicing Catholic he had to tread a thin line between representing the public interest and appearing to breach the principles of separation of Church and State and freedom of religion by interfering in Church affairs. In the circumstances, it was the very least he could do.
The united front on this issue presented by both the Irish Church and State does however represent a powerful signal to the Vatican that any further non-reporting of allegations, or interference in the subsequent investigations will not be tolerated. The Pope appears to have been visibly moved by the forthright condemnations of church actions declared to his face by abuse survivors at a private meeting organized by the church even though it excluded some of the more vocal church critics on the issue.
Most people who met him appear to have been impressed by his sincerity and listening skills, but many expressed disappointment at the lack of any concrete follow-up actions proposed by the Pontiff during his visit. Most will now adopt a wait-and-see approach to see if Vatican policies, personnel, and practices really do change. Few expect any fundamental changes in church teaching and practice, for instance on birth control, same sex marriage, the medical management of unsafe pregnancies, and the ordination of women; but future appointments and policy pronouncements by the Vatican will be watched closely.
Pope John Paul II initiated a conservative counter revolution in Ireland when he visited in 1979, one which took a generation to reverse. Far from a repeat performance, it is just about possible that Pope Francis' visit to Ireland will have more of an impact on the Vatican than on Ireland.